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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Non-College Whites Are The Reason The Reaganist GOP Exists

People talking about Trump and “the politics of resentment” like it’s new:

Trump Takes the Politics of Resentment to the Global Stage

There is a bone-deep resentment that Donald Trump shares with his supporters and Barack Obama symbolizes everything they resent: a well-educated successful black man with the middle name “Hussein” who held the most powerful office in the world. As Andrew Breitbart famously said, “politics is downstream from culture.” That is the origin of the resentment that is finding it’s expression not just in domestic politics, but in foreign policy as well. These folks are giving a giant middle finger to the whole world and don’t give a shit about the consequences.

What do non-college whites resent?

During Progressive Era and New Deal newspapers were written by the uneducated for the uneducated.

After WWII, news organizations became increasingly dominated by college educated reporters (The only qualification remains an ability to write a coherent sentence in English). Simultaneously, a college education became the thing that (symbolically) separated the rich from the poor. Later, affirmative action became the norm in college admissions. It continues to make headlines with Court victories every few years, which is extremely important because if you don't go to college and your kids don't go to college, then everything you know about college is what is on the TV news.

What do non-college whites resent? It’s in the name.

Here's a great piece on the subject called "Reagan's Cheshire Snarl" by John Dolan.

You have to realize that in the mid-sixties, what is now called “the Right” was hopelessly confused about what was going on. There really was a sort of silent majority, because no one could figure out to say what it wanted to say in public. What it wanted to say, what I heard every time we watched the news, was simple: “Kill them!” But before Reagan, no one knew how to say that out loud.

It was the students who gave Reagan’s managers their chance. Nobody remembers now how insanely those students were hated by the people out on the hot, sullen side of the California divide. To understand where that hate came from, you have to pan back a little. Reagan’s “Greatest Generation” (which they certainly were not, but that’s another story) created the G.I. Bill, enfranchising a huge number of veterans who would never have dreamed of doing something like going to college if the state hadn’t waved money in their faces while they were being demobilized. In America, higher education had been something for rich kids—rich boys, in the beginning, slowly expanding to include some rich girls as well. Everyone else was supposed to go to work, and count themselves lucky if they found a job.

The G.I. Bill made college a normal option, for a huge chunk of families who weren’t particularly rich. And soon, like many perks that once marked the aristocracy, it became something desirable, then something almost required of those who were striving. My father’s family was one of those. They grew up, ten kids, in a house about the size of your garage in the slums of Jersey City. The war freed them from that claustrophobic Irish-Catholic ghetto and they strove successfully—most of them, anyway. Our failed outpost in the California suburbs was the exception. It wasn’t easy for educated white people to fail completely in California in the post-war years, but we managed it. And still we gave our allegiance to Reagan’s counterrevolution, his long war to destroy the government initiatives that had given all our successful uncles their chance. In fact, our poverty contributed to the virulence of our resentment of those students, those lucky swarms of Berkeley kids who mouthed off and didn’t have to work.


It was the public universities like Berkeley that were Reagan’s special target. He didn’t have any interest in starving Stanford, even if he’d had the power; Stanford was for the rich, and only very belatedly joined the student revolt. It was the public universities, above all the Berkeley campus, that he and his public hated. One of Reagan’s famous lines from the time makes clear the basis of that hate: “Education is a privilege, not a right.” Education, at university level, had always been a “privilege” in the United States. In fact, it was the mark of privilege, a sign of belonging to the upper class. After WW II, that changed, and at least in public universities in a few states like California, there really was something like admission on merit. There was no tuition at public universities—imagine, you could get a degree from UC Berkeley without paying a dollar in tuition, if you were good enough. UC official history page evokes that time with something like disbelief in its timeline: “1960 – The California Master Plan for Higher Education affirmed that UC should remain tuitionfree (a widely held view at the time)…”

Yes, “a widely held view at the time,” but that was going to change, thanks to people like our neighbors on Belle Avenue. They hated the notion that kids no better than their own (or so they believed) were daring to ape the rich by getting respected university degrees—and worse still, they lacked the patronizing discretion of the truly privileged who’d preceded them. The people on my street never resented the really rich. What they hated was middle-class people having pleasure, having sex without punishment, ease without the grasshopper’s winter comeuppance.

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